Friday, June 20, 2003

The AAUP held its annual meeting last weekend in DC. The must controversial issue was the censure of the University of South Florida ( because of its handling of the Al-Arian case. In the end, Committee A made no recommendation on censure, arguing that because Al-Arian's grievance appeal had not been fully heard yet, it could not act, and could not tell USF what measures to take to resolve its censure. I argued, with a few others, that USF had caused the delay (by indefinitely suspending Al-Arian and then suing for a pre-emptive "right" to fire him), that Al-Arian is sitting in jail and this will probably never reach the USF grievance stage, and that the key issue is USF's violation of academic freedom, not the minor procedures of the AAUP.

Because of obscure rules, the AAUP doesn't allow censure recommendations to be amended on the floor, but the issue was sent back to Committee A, which was a symbolic rejection of what Committee A did. A "condemnation" was issued by the AAUP in a resolution from Committee A, which was a good thing. Some worry that this will create two levels of AAUP action, censure and sub-censure in the form of condemnation. However, I think this will set a good precedent, of allowing the AAUP to condemn universities who deserve censure but in cases where the report hasn't been completed in time. I wish that had been done for Medaille College, which is sure to be censured next year.

The Weekly Standard ( and an earlier editorialm denounced the AAUP for even criticizing USF. Here's what I wrote them:

To the editor:

David Tell’s denunciation of the American Association of University Professors (Terrorism and Other "Scholarly Pursuits", June 16; Professors for Sami, June 17 online) is misguided and factually challenged. Far from being “self-betrayal,” censure of the University of South Florida (USF) for its handling of the Sami Al-Arian case would have been a principled stand for academic freedom, as I argued at the AAUP annual meeting. Sadly, the AAUP refused to impose censure for technical reasons, and settled for a condemnation.

The criticism of USF has never been due to its firing of a professor for supporting terrorism. Rather, USF claimed that it had the right to fire a professor for failing to disassociate himself from the university, and for receiving death threats that “disrupted” the campus. Because USF has never rescinded these illegitimate claims, it deserves censure as well as condemnation. Would one expect the ACLU to drop a complaint against the government for grotesque violations of constitutional rights simply because later evidence showed the defendant to be guilty? The censure of an administration by the AAUP has nothing to do with the evil acts of the individual involved.

The conservative civil liberties group FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) defended Al-Arian and maintained after his indictment that its actions “were and remain constitutionally and morally correct.”

It is difficult to say whether academic freedom should be denied to those who disgust us, like Al-Arian, by their financial support for killers. For example, I would deplore the idea of banning Oliver North from college campuses, even though he illegally funneled money to support the terrorist acts of the Contras in the 1980s.

Although the Al-Arian case now is a complex and difficult one, the condemnation of USF remains a simple and obvious one. By misstating the reasons for the critique of USF, Tell doesn’t tell the whole story.

John K. Wilson

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